The restructuring of the global operations of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is raising fears of job losses, especially at the regional level, as the UN body grapples with a funding shortfall.
This comes at a time when the numbers of displaced persons and refugees are increasing globally at about 25.4 million, more than half of whom are under the age of 18.
Sub-Saharan Africa hosts more than 26 per cent of the world’s refugee population, with over 18 million people under the care of UNHCR.
Just 10 countries host 60 per cent of the world’s refugees, with Turkey alone hosting 3.5 million refugees. The others are Bangladesh, Lebanon, Jordan, Pakistan, Sudan, Iran, Uganda, Germany and Ethiopia.
In 2017, people of concern increased by 5.4 per cent and UNHCR needed to $7.9 billion to respond. The funding gap was 43 per cent and the total expenditure was $4.1 billion.
According to the latest UNHCR global report, the vast majority of the world’s refugees (85 percent) live in developing countries that face their own economic and development challenges.
But the restructuring of the operations of UNHCR to bring services to the people and serve the refugees better, could result in significant job losses.
Yvonne Ndege, the UNHCR senior communications officer and Kenya Office spokesperson, confirmed to The EastAfrican that the agency is redesigning its organisation so that structures in the regions are stronger and better equipped to provide support and oversight to country operations.
She said that the process of regionalisation will affect UNHCR’s global operations “as we look to deliver lifesaving assistance in a more effective and streamlined manner.”
“The UNHCR is in the process of strengthening our presence in various regions, including East and Horn of Africa, in order to better support our field operations in places like Kakuma and Dadaab Refugee Camp. We believe that strengthening and being closer to the ground, we will be better able to serve refugees and the displaced,” said Ms Ndege.
The restructuring is in line with the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) that followed the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants in 2016. The CRRF species a comprehensive response to any large movement of refugees.
These include rapid and well-supported reception and admissions; support for immediate and ongoing needs for example protection, health, education; assistance for local and national institutions and communities receiving refugees; and expanded opportunities for solutions.
The objective is to ease pressure on host countries; enhance refugee self-reliance; expand access to third-country solutions and support conditions in the refugees’ countries of origin for their return in safety and dignity. It has been rolled out in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Afghanistan, and Chad.
It was followed by the Global Compact on Refugees endorsed in December 2018, intended to provide greater support for those fleeing their homelands, and for the countries that take them in, which are often among the poorest in the world. The GCR will allow regional offices to deal directly with donors from the private sector, faith communities and international financial institutions.
Both agreements are voluntary in nature, and not legally binding instruments to countries hosting refugees.
For a start, the World Bank, as part of the Compact, has established a $2 billion specific financial instrument for low-income countries affected by forced displacement to help address the socio-economic impact of refugee flows into a part of a country.
In the East African region, Uganda hosts the largest number of refugees followed by Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya. Kenya hosts 471,724 refugees, with the majority (54.5 percent) originating from Somalia and South Sudan (24.4 percent).
Others are from Democratic Republic of Congo (8.8 percent), Ethiopia (5.9 percent), with the remainder from Sudan, Rwanda, Eritrea, Burundi and Uganda.